Yesterday Supreme Court passed a judgement imposing ban on the sale of firecrackers in the NCR region till October 31st citing concerns of environment pollution. The decision which came just 10 days ahead of Diwali, major festival of Hindus generated a flurry of reactions. The SC was ordained to find a solution for worsening pollution in NCR by the appellants, who in this case are Arjun Gopal and Aarav Bhandari both aged six months and teamed up with 14 months old Zoya Rao Bhasin. In their tryst for justice, they are assisted by their fathers- Gopal Shankarnarayanan, Amit Bhandari and Saurabh Bhasin. Complainants prayed that owing to laggard functioning of State government, they were forced to approach the highest authority for a swift response and prayed that infants and children in particular are worst victims of air pollution.
SC’s judgement in this regard is hailed as landmark judgement as for the first time, the highest judicial authority took cognizance of the damage caused by alarming rise in environmental pollution. Judicial intervention, indeed aptly reflected the ineptness of concerned government authorities. But unfortunately, the SC instead of enforcing scientifically-backed, robust long-term measures to tackle pollution, imposed outright temporary ban on sale of firecrackers during Diwali to do the magic. Incidentally, this decision aside dampening the festive fervor of Diwali, foolishly implied that #sayingnotocrackers can take care of worst air pollution experienced during winter months in NCR. Undoubtedly, while the fume-emanating chemicals in the crackers are a health hazard, a sudden temporary, experimental ban can serve no purpose. Rather, SC should impose stringent checks on the type of chemicals used in making crackers and necessarily substitute the chemicals releasing toxic gases with milder ones. Further, it can educate the masses on limiting the usage of crackers.
Arguably, while the ban on sale would reduce air pollution and might offer succor to the region for a few days, what does SC aim to achieve by imposing a temporary ban? In fact, the knee-jerk reaction besides reiterating SC’s desperation for finding a solution for the burgeoning pollution would serve no long-term purpose. Like the quick-fix odd-even policy rolled out by the state government of Delhi, it will be of no avail. If the SC is keen on containing the environmental pollution why doesn’t it censure the concerned government for its inaction? For that matter, SC should prevail on the government in developing a longstanding solution for controlling the growing pollution across various metropolitan cities in India. Just like the over-the-counter- medication, which offer a temporary respite, peace-meal strategy like ban on crackers can’t curtail pollution. Alternatively, SC’s attempts to address pollution woes has created more chaos and angst.
Indian tradition of celebrating various festivals has been a community enriching activity. Every Indian festival necessarily nurtures an ecosystem, which thrives on the scale of the celebrations. Diwali celebrations are source of livelihood for thousands of artisans and their families involved in making earthen diyas, wicks, candles, firecrackers etc. Any major glitch or a ban on the celebrations inadvertently inflicts a financial distress in this intricately interconnected ecosystem. SC’s decision has created such pandemonium among traders who obtained licenses to sell crackers in NCR region. The trader union has now come down heavily on SC for imposing sudden ban on sale of crackers and raised concerns of illegal smuggling of crackers. Since sale of crackers is banned but not on bursting crackers.
Before conservationists and other elite bandwagon jump in to lecture about the duties of a responsible citizen towards India, let me underline that environmental concerns can be addressed by continuous systematic readjustment of lifestyle. As a developing economy with immense potential for growth, an awareness should be created among citizens towards environment. Further great emphasis must be laid on adherence to the imposed guidelines. A ban might be counterintuitive.
SC is thus a makeshift arrangement of rescuing Delhi’s weather by imposing ban on sale of crackers. Reports now indicate that other North Indian states like Gwalior and Allahabad are in close second and third position with regards to pollution levels after Delhi. Is SC contemplating similar bans in other polluted cities as well? By this logic, I guess a day may not be far when Hindus across the country might be forced to give up on the tradition of bursting crackers on Diwali, a practice which makes it uniquely popular among children. In fact, crackers make Diwali more endearing!!! For now, SC’s decision has dampened the festive spirits of NCR and coincidentally strengthened the bias Hindus have been subjected to. The judicial overreach and unwarranted intervention of SC in Hindu traditions has already generated a great distrust. This latest judgement has stoked more suspicions. SC in the past has intervened in Hindu festivals and made every attempt to limit Hindu activity. It has ordered a ban on Dahi Handi in Maharastra, Jallikattu in Tamilnadu, Kambala in Karnataka, Kila Raipur Sports in Punjab, Elephant ban in Kerala Temples. A selective onslaught on Hindu traditions are now perceived with lot of suspicion. An egregious attempt to attempt selectively erase cultural practices is now evoking unpalatable reactions among the majority community.
Interestingly, while SC defended its landmark judgement as upholding right to breath/life it conveniently chose to undermine the right to religion of Hindus. Pollution in Delhi is attributed to-vehicular pollution, stubble burning, industrial emissions, construction activity and manual sweeping of roads. Ironically, SC selectively chose to impose ban on crackers. Perhaps, SC is conditioning Indians (especially Hindus) to embrace the new normal of selective judicial overreach and warped secularism.